Molly Watson

Title: Investigating Site Selection and Promoting Habitat Connectivity to Autumn Swarming Sites for Bats in Northern England 

Supervisors: Professor Marion Pfeifer, and Professor Stephen Rushton

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Key words: Applied Ecology, Bat Ecology and Conservation, Landscape Connectivity, Modelling, Acoustic Monitoring, Remote Sensing, Co-design.


Whilst there is a wealth of scientific literature highlighting the impacts of habitat degradation on species (although less so for bats), there are significantly fewer outlining conservation strategies. This makes it difficult to implement fully effective mitigation that combines local knowledge and new research. In recent years it has emerged that bats use a much more diverse range of sites for autumn swarming than previously thought, but this is not reflected in the scientific literature. In addition to this, the conservation of autumn swarming sites, particularly at a landscape level, is seldom considered in comparison to the conservation of summer roosts and hibernacula.

This study focusses on a highly fragmented agricultural landscape in Northumberland, in the north of England, to quantify the relative importance of site and landscape characteristics for autumn swarming, using an integrated nested laplace approximation (INLA) modelling framework. Acoustic monitoring was conducted in 2023 to assess bat activity at 26 potential swarm sites in Northumberland. Variables representing key landscape features, such as distance to freshwater and tree configuration, as well as swarm site features (site structure PCA and wind exposure), and climatic variables, for example wind and rain, that may have influenced bat activity levels were selected for inclusion in the model. The derived evidence will be applied to identify potential sites that may or could be used for autumn swarming and will be used in conjunction with stakeholder feedback (workshops in summer 2024), to develop conservation strategies that promote habitat connectivity and mitigate potential barriers for swarming (e.g. light pollution). The study results are anticipated to provide a practical guide to help those involved in countryside management make informed decisions to maintain the viability of swarm sites for bats, thus sustaining a vital group of species for overall ecosystem health.